Federal workers take on odd jobs to make ends meet
Providence, R.I. — When her paychecks dried up because of the partial government shutdown, Cheryl Inzunza Blum sought out a side job that has become a popular option in the current economy: She rented out a room on Airbnb.
Other government workers are driving for Uber, relying on word-of-mouth and social networks to find handyman work and looking for traditional temp gigs to help pay the bills during the longest shutdown in U.S. history.
The hundreds of thousands of out-of-work government employees have more options than in past shutdowns given the rise of the so-called “gig economy” that has made an entire workforce out of people doing home vacation rentals and driving for companies like Uber, Lyft and Postmates.
Blum decided to capitalize on the busy winter travel season in Arizona to help make ends meet after she stopped getting paid for her government contract work as a lawyer in immigration court in Tucson. She says she has no choice but to continue to work unpaid because she has clients who are depending on her, some of whom are detained or have court hearings.
But she also has bills: her Arizona state bar dues, malpractice insurance and a more than $500 phone bill for the past two months because she uses her phone so heavily for work. Blum bills the government for her work, but the office that pays her hasn’t processed any paychecks to her since before the shutdown began. So she’s been tapping every source she can to keep herself afloat — even her high school- and college-aged children — and is even thinking about driving for Uber and Lyft as well.
“So after working in court all day I’m going to go home and get the room super clean because they’re arriving this evening,” she said of her Airbnb renters.
“I have a young man who’s visiting town to do some biking, and he’s going to come tomorrow and stay a week,” she added. “I’m thrilled because that means immediate money. Once they check in, the next day there’s some money in my account.”
The shutdown is occurring against the backdrop of a strong economy that has millions of open jobs, along with ample opportunities to pick up Uber and Lyft shifts.
The Labor Department reported that employers posted 6.9 million jobs in November, the latest figures available.
Roughly 8,700 Uber driver positions are advertised nationwide on the SnagAJob website, while Lyft advertises about 3,000.
But the gig economy doesn’t pay all that well — something the furloughed government workers are finding out.
Pay for such workers has declined over the past two years, and they are earning a growing share of their income elsewhere, a recent study found. Most Americans who earn income through online platforms do so for only a few months each year, according to the study by the JPMorgan Chase Institute.
Chris George, 48, of Hemet, California, is furloughed from his job as a forestry technician supervisor for the U.S. Department of Agriculture forest service. He’s been driving for Lyft but has only been averaging about $10 for every hour he drives.
He just got word that he’ll be getting $450 in weekly unemployment benefits, but hadn’t received any money as of Monday. In the meantime, he’s taking handyman or other odd jobs wherever he can.
“I’ve just been doing side jobs when they come along,” he said Monday.
George Jankowski is among those hunting around for cash. He’s getting a $100 weekly unemployment check, but that’s barely enough to pay for food and gas, he said.
On Monday, he made $30 helping a friend move out of a third-floor apartment in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Jankowski is furloughed from a USDA call center and does not expect to get back pay because his job is part-time and hourly.
“It’s embarrassing to ask for money to pay bills or ask to borrow money to, you know, eat,” he said.
White House shifts shutdown strategy : The White House shifted tactics Tuesday, trying to bypass House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to negotiate with rank-and-file lawmakers even as President Donald Trump dug in for a prolonged shutdown. The House and Senate announced they would stay in session, canceling an upcoming recess week at home if the shutdown continued, which seemed likely.
FAA recalling more aviation-safety inspectors: Federal officials say they are recalling more aviation-safety inspectors who were idled by the partial government shutdown. A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday that the agency expects to have about 2,200 inspectors back on the job by the end of this week. That is up from 500 inspectors recalled by the end of last week.
‘Uncharted territory’ for Super Bowl planners: A day after travelers waited nearly 90 minutes in snail-speed security lines at the world’s busiest airport, Atlanta’s mayor is concerned about the waits that could result when the city hosts the 2019 Super Bowl. The ongoing partial government shutdown is “uncharted territory” amid planning for one of the world’s biggest sporting events, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Tuesday.
IRS recalling 46,000 workers : The Internal Revenue Service is recalling about 46,000 of its employees furloughed by the government shutdown – nearly 60 percent of its workforce – to handle tax returns and pay out refunds. The employees won’t be paid.
Shutdown slows IPOs: The partial government shutdown is slowing plans by some companies to issue stock to the public and potentially cutting off a key source of capital for the financial markets. The shutdown has all but darkened the Securities and Exchange Commission, the government agency that oversees the markets.